If there's one thing you can say about Pilotwings Resort, it's that its a game that certainly knows how to make an impression. Whether it's the initial "Oh God, my eyes feel like they're about to explode" you get when you whack the 3D up to full on the main menu, only to have a plane flown by the Mii of your other half's cat fly out into your face, or the much more subtle ways the game's music will creep into your subconscious (we've had the various aircraft's themes running through our head since we got it. And that was around a month ago), Pilotwings Resort is a game that'll stick in your head.
And, for many people, this will be the game you'll pick up alongside your 3DS. With Nintendo's showing being limited to Nintendogs + Cats and this, if you're wanting a Nintendo game to go with your brand new console, it's either this or the puppies. We're just glad we didn't have to choose.
As you may have guessed from the name, Pilotwings Resort is a game that's all about flying. Strapping your Mii into one of a variety of three different types of aircraft (with three more to unlock), you take to the sky above WuHu island (which, fact fans, is the same island featured in popular Nintendo titles Wii Fit and Wii Sports Resort), as you take on a variety of air based challenges, and take in the scenery.
The vehicles you'll start out with are a plane, a hang glider, and a jetpack (sorry, "Rocket Belt"), each of which takes a bit of getting used to, as each flies very differently to the last, and even have their own unique landings. While you can do pretty much whatever you want in the plane, thanks to the fact it comes with its own built in engine, and wings, in the hang glider, you'll need to keep a constant eye on your speed, as if you drop below a certain amount, you'll simply start to fall out of the sky. The rocket belt, meanwhile, requires you to be equally coy about your fuel, your height, and the angle of your jets. Tilt your jets forward, and you'll move forward fast, but lose height - keep them vertical, and you'll gain height, but not get anywhere. If you want to move forward at a constant height, you'll have to be subtle with the Circle Pad, but it's pretty easy to get the hang of.
It can all sound a little bit daunting, but, this being Nintendo, it's a lot easier than it sounds. Far from being a hyper realistic flight model, with blackouts, redouts, stalls, and all other kinds of mechanical mishappenings, Piltowings Resort is a lot more forgiving, and more befitting of a game based around giant-headed Miis flying planes around Wii Sports Resort land.
You progress through the game by taking on a series of challenges, which are each grouped into categories rating their difficulty. Surprisingly, the challenges you'll face are actually pretty varied, which is an achievement in itself for a game that's based entirely around flying. Whether you're having to fly through hoops in the glider (which is a challenge in itself, as managing your speed, while trying to stay at the same height as the hoops is tricky), navigating an airborne minfield in the plane, as you attempt to reach the points capsules, which just happened to have appeared in the middle of the mines, or even putting out fires on a beach, you won't get bored here of doing the same thing again and again - at least, if you change missions.
You see, Pilotwings is a game designed to appeal to perfectionists. On each mission you attempt, you'll be given a score at the end, showing you how well you fared on each of the sections of the mission. On the earlier missions, this will simply score how many of the targets you hit/flew through, and how accurate your landing was. Even landing's subject to a number of different points categories, as the game measures how "accurate" you were when landing, and how much "impact" your landing had (with less impact = more points). Disappointingly, the "accuracy" part of the score seems to be a bit hit and miss, as when you're landing the plane, you're never entirely sure what you're meant to be trying to be accurate with (are you meant to line up with the lights on the runway? The gangway that stretches above the runway? Or the shadow it casts? From our scientific experiments, it seems to be the latter, which makes very little sense). The points you earn are then totted up into a total, giving you a score from 0 - 3 stars, with a fifth, "Perfect" level being achieved by making a run through the level without losing a single point. We can imagine the smashed 3DS's now.
Later levels spice things up further by releasing a number of extra point capsules into the level when you fly through certain rings, which'll float off if you don't reach them in time, or adding small spots you have to fly through, which while being worth a measly one point each, greatly reduce the margin of error you've got on your path through the level - rather than being able to make a mistake, and basically go wherever you want, now, if you want a "perfect" score (or want to give yourself a good shot at getting a high score), you'll have to stick to the path the game wants you to. More annoyingly, it also starts to take points off whenever you crash, removing two points if you clip something, and five if you crash properly.
"Ah", we can hear you thinking "but this is where the 3D'll come into play. It'll help you judge things better, so you'll be less likely to clip your wing." Well, yes and no. There's no doubt that when you're flying during the day, Pilotwings is a spectacular game indeed, made even more impressive when you turn the 3D on. There is a legitimate sense of depth added to the game, which, while we remain unconvinced how much it genuinely helps, at least gives you the impression it's doing so. However, should you be playing a mission which requires you to fly through a tunnel, or at night, the 3DS's worst feature - its ghosting, or "cross-talk", will rear its ugly head, and mean the game actually gets harder.
In fact, Pilotwings' ghosting was the worst we've seen on the 3DS - and it's not down to the software, as the fault lies with the screen. When you fly towards a brightly coloured ring at night, you'll have faint, ghostly copies of the ring on the left, and right of it. As you fly towards it, these will converge on a point, which makes for an incredibly distracting feeling. If you close one eye, you'll see that what's happening is that your left eye actually sees part of the image the right eye should see, and vice versa, meaning you get three images for the price of one. Here's our best impression of what we end up seeing.
For those who like to take things a bit more steadily, or have collectible OCD, there's also a Free Flight mode featured here, which tasks you with finding hundreds of balloons, information points, and aircraft-specific items, all of which are scattered around the island. Disappointingly, you've always got a time limit here, so you'll never be able to explore the island freely to your heart's content, but you can up the amount of time you're allocated by finding a certain amount of balloons.
Apart from the aformentioned 3D issues, Pilotwings: Resort does have a few other shortcomings - not least of which is the fact there's just the one island to fly around, which in itself is recycled from an earlier game. In comparison, Pilotwings 64, and N64 launch game, featured 4 to explore, which makes this a bit disappointing.
In the end, though, Pilotwings: Resort is a game whose appeal will depend entirely on how much of a perfectionist you are. We've spent fifteen hours playing so far, we've three starred every challenge, but we haven't found ever item there is to find. In fact, we've still got a way to go. While multiple islands to explore would have been nice, Pilotwings: Resort is still a fairly substantial game on its own - but one with its fair share of frustrations, too.